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WWE produces SummerSlam, their second or third biggest show of the year (depending on how you feel about the Royal Rumble) this Sunday. Heading into the show, it doesn't really feel like that big of an event though. Looking up and down the card, it doesn't look more impressive than any other B PPV show WWE produces throughout the year, the exception that this show features Brock Lesnar wrestling for the first time since April.
Why does this show feel rather unspectacular? I think a lack of star power is one reason; particularly the absence of John Cena, who has been such a staple for the company over the years that his presence is really missed when hyping up the show. The show also doesn't have any special attraction matches; with part time guys like Triple H and The Undertaker sitting this one out as well.
I also think the main event isn't very exciting for most fans. While there has been a build between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar that stretches back years, it's pretty difficult for fans to get that excited about them wrestling again. WWE has tried everything to get the fans invested in supporting Reigns in his quest to topple Lesnar, and nothing has really worked. The delay in "officially" putting Reigns over Lesnar has been agonizing for fans as WWE continuously scraps ideas to put Reigns over in favor of going back to the drawing board and thinking that a new strategy will turn Reigns into the next Steve Austin.
The question for Sunday is if this will be the day that Reigns actually beats Lesnar? In the past it has seemed like a lock that Reigns was going to beat Lesnar (particularly at WrestleMania in April) and WWE ended up keeping the title on Lesnar. At this point, nothing would really surprise me with how they book Lesnar. Sure, he is most likely going back to UFC to fight Daniel Cormier sometime early in 2019, but that does not mean he has to lose the Universal Championship before then. I could easily see Lesnar holding onto the title until WrestleMania 35, or hell even beyond that.
One thing WWE has shown over the last 18 months is that they have no problem with Lesnar holding onto the championship while also being absent from the product, in fact, they have even turned it into a storyline to try and get Lesnar heat. They have also shown unbelievable patience (some would say stubbornness) in trying to get Reigns over with the fanbase as the next great babyface. If they don't feel like Reigns is really over at SummerSlam (and Reigns is exactly as popular with fans as he was two years ago) they'll just focus on getting him more over for WrestleMania and let Lesnar hold onto the built. This is the vicious cycle that WWE fans are current enduring, and so it wouldn't be shocking at all to see Lesnar retain at SummerSlam.
Suppose though, that WWE was willing to do the title change on Sunday, what would be the best way to do it? I'll tell you what's NOT the best way to do it; and that is to actually put on a legitimate, 15+ minute match. As we've learned in recent months, the fans don't particularly care for Reigns' matches and will attempt to disrupt them by cheering for basically anything else. This will certainly be the case at the end of SummerSlam, which is going to be a six hour show in front of mostly hardcore fans who have traveled to SummerSlam. It would be suicidal to try and get them invested in a long match.
With that being said, I think the best possible thing they could do is have Reigns defeat Lesnar in like, 90 seconds and win the title clean. That way you avoid trying to get the crowd into a match they don't have any interest in supporting. The crowd may not care that much about the match; but there is still interest in the future of the title, and they might actually pop for Reigns winning in such short fashion. It also gives Reigns the benefit of just slaughtering Lesnar, which will be fitting revenge after coming up short against Brock in the past. If WWE is committed to putting the title on Reigns, that is probably the best way to go.
There is also the possibility that Lesnar is not willing to do a whole lot in the ring; because he has a big payday in his sights with an upcoming fight against Daniel Cormier and a serious injury, particularly at his age, could jeopardize that. If you remember, last time Lesnar was gearing up for a fight, he wrestled Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania in a match that was extremely disappointing, mainly because Lesnar didn't want to get hurt or take any serious bumps. It's possible that Lesnar doesn't want to do anything at SummerSlam that could cause an injury, so a squash match against Reigns would prevent Lesnar from risking serious injury.
From a star power standpoint, the biggest star on the show is probably Ronda Rousey. Rousey has been great so far in WWE, and the crowd really digs her as a badass babyface. Really, WWE could actually have Rousey vs Bliss in the main event and avoid any negativity from the audience by having Rousey destroy Bliss. Any concerns WWE may have had in putting the RAW Women's Championship on Rousey should have been alleviated by Rousey's solid performances so far; so they shouldn't be worried she can't cut it as a main event act. The only reason I could see Rousey losing is because Stephanie McMahon gets involved, setting up a big match involving both of them at the Evolution PPV in October.
There are three other matches on the card of note; the first being the WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. Part of the reason SummerSlam feels a little down is because this feud, which should be great, has only had a couple of weeks to build. Ideally, I would like to see a lengthy feud that culminates in a big match at SummerSlam, and instead WWE has pushed this along over about two weeks. I think it's possible they'll still have a long feud, but instead of SummerSlam being the pinnacle matchup, it will be the first of a few big matches.
I thought the material they've given Joe so far has been awkward, but Joe is so good on the microphone and his delivery that he is able to get away with stuff that would absolutely bomb if other people were saying it. These are two very good performers who have a lot of experience together, and this is the favorite to be the best show on the card. I think the best decision would be to have Joe go over and win the title; it would add more vitriol to the feud (similar to Tomaso Ciampa capturing the NXT Championship in the midst of his feud with Johnny Gargano) and establish Joe as the dominant heel on SmackDown, a role he has been destined to play.
The match with the longest build on the card is actually not Reigns vs Lesnar, but Daniel Bryan and The Miz. Dating back to 2010, this was a matchup fans thought they'd never see once Bryan was forced to retire. The peak of the feud probably took place last year, when The Miz went after Bryan on an episode of Talking Smack; calling him a coward for not being able to wrestle in an altercation that really blended reality with storytelling. Once Bryan returned, it was obvious eventually WWE would get to this match. The build in recent weeks has been mixed (I thought the baby angle was bad, but the recaps they did on Tuesday were very good) but the fans should be amped for this match.
The elephant in the room here is Bryan's contract, which expires shortly after SummerSlam and he has yet to sign an extension. Bryan is a very interesting case and it's possible that he hasn't resigned because he intends to wrestle somewhere else once his contract expires. Perhaps WWE decided to do The Miz vs Bryan at SummerSlam when they figured Bryan was on his way out and this was their last chance to capitalize on that heat? Either way, if he resigns or leaves the company, I think The Miz should go over at SummerSlam. The key should be to establish The Miz as a legitimate threat to Bryan, so WWE should try and make him look strong in their first match against each other.
The final match of real notoriety is Braun Strowman vs Kevin Owens, with Strowman's Money in the Bank contract on the line. During his feud with Strowman, Owens has been completely overmatched and booked to look incompetent at almost every turn, but if he were to somehow fluke his way into winning the Money in the Bank contract, it would have been worth it. While Strowman has the contract, it's possible WWE doesn't want him to have the world championship. This puts them in a conundrum because as a monster babyface, WWE wouldn't want Strowman to cash in his contract and lose; which would make him look incredibly incompetent since the Money in the Bank contract is presented as being essentially a guaranteed title victory.
Owens sneaking a way with the contract, and then perhaps using it later to cash-in on a victorious Reigns might solve a lot of WWE's problems. Reigns could beat Lesnar but still be kept away from the title when Owens takes it right away from him; it would help Owens as a heel, something he really needs after this feud with Strowman; and it would send Strowman on the warpath to get back what he lost; something we all would enjoy seeing it. Strowman vs Owens isn't the most hyped match on the card, but it may end up being the most important.
Must Watch Matches
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kazuchika Okada: ****1/2 NJPW G1 Climax Day 17
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Tetsuya Naito: ****1/4 NJPW G1 Climax Day 18
Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega: ****3/4 NJPW G1 Climax Day 18
Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: ****3/4 NJPW G1 Climax Final
Eita vs Dragon Kid: **** Dragon Gate Kobe Festival 2018
Bandido, Jason Lee and Naruki Doi vs Flamita, Yosuke Santa Maria and Kagetora: ****1/4 Dragon Gate Kobe Festival 2018
BxB Hulk and YAMATO vs Big R Shimizu and Ben-K: ****1/2 Dragon Gate Kobe Festival 2018
Masato Yoshino vs Shingo Takagi: ****1/4 Dragon Gate Kobe Festival 2018